Steely Dan

TrackAlbum
Black CowAja
BodhisattvaCountdown To Ecstasy
Charlie FreakPretzel Logic
Doctor WuKaty Lied
Don't Take Me AliveThe Royal Scam
Parker's BandPretzel Logic
Reelin' In The YearsCan't Buy A Thrill
The Royal ScamThe Royal Scam
Showbiz KidsCountdown To Ecstasy
Your Gold Teeth IIKaty Lied

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

 

Contributor: Terry Newman

I have been a Steely Dan fan since they first toured here in the UK in 1974. Such perfectionists, they were over an hour late for that gig at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park. They were, however, note perfect and the sight of Donald Fagen conducting the band like an orchestra was a revelation as we were all expecting the songs played in quiet reverie.

They now seem to have rediscovered their love of touring and live performance so it seems such a shame that they retreated into the studio for all those years. If you scour down the list of musicians on any Dan album it is simply mind-boggling, a fantastic array of lead guitarists from Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter to Rick Derringer to the incomparable Larry Carlton.

My heart always lies with the original five-piece who made Countdown To Ecstasy; to hear the twin guitars of Baxter and Denny Dias was a joy to behold. I only wish they could have toured more often and kept that great band together.

They increasingly became Becker-Fagen with a bunch of (brilliant) studio musicians and it would have been nice to hear more ‘Live’ work from them. Where are all the outtakes guys?

This is purely a selection of ten tracks that I think give a good outline of their work, not necessarily my 10 favourites as that would change every week anyway. Often labelled as dull automatons with no soul, I think the very opposite is true. A brilliant combination of pop/rock/jazz with intelligent lyrics and unsupassed musicianship these records sound as fresh today as when first heard.

This selection covers their first six albums which is really all you need … most will know Reelin’ In The Years from the debut album but they became more jazz-influenced on later records – Denny Dias being a fine exponent of jazzy guitar on Countdown To Ecstasy, their finest work.

Pretzel Logic continued this jazz inspired theme with Parker’s Band being an obvious reference point. Doctor Wu from Katy Lied features a quite brilliant sax solo from Phil Woods. The Royal Scam and Aja were even more technically brilliant pieces of work with every track featuring solos by top musicians; this was at a time when they were purely a studio entity and legendary in the number of takes to get the perfect track.

 

Walter Becker (1950-2017)

 

Steely Dan official website

Steely Dan biography (iTunes)

4 solo albums from Donald Fagen to date, 2 from Walter Becker – a DF toppermost would be welcome, lots of great songs to choose from.

TopperPost #71

6 Comments

  1. Merric Davidson
    Sep 14, 2013

    A fine selection. I realise they’re not Terry’s favourites as he likes every one of the tracks on those albums. I know what he means because I do too, and how many bands can you say that about. So it would be futile to suggest additions but I want to just flag up one track off the first album, Can’t Buy A Thrill. Whenever I hear the opening bars of Midnite Cruiser I stop whatever I’m doing for 4 minutes and just listen. I’ve been doing that for forty years and it sounds just as good now as then. “Felonius my old friend, step on in and let me shake your hand…”

    I know that many others prefer the jazz-rock of Aja and Gaucho but buy me a thrill anytime.

  2. Peter Viney
    Sep 15, 2013

    Can’t Buy A Thrill … track one. They set out their stall with Do It Again. The first one I remember and still my favourite track. That’s why I bought tickets to see them on their first UK tour, got the train on a Sunday, then a taxi to the venue, only to find it cancelled, apparently due to a Fagen/Becker tiff … so it took me a couple of albums to forgive that one.

    I so often find myself choosing the best-known as the best, but there is a reason why they ARE the best-known, so Rikki Don’t Lose That Number would be the next one I’d list. It’s another track 1 on an album too, this one on Pretzel Logic.

    I don’t agree that you only need the early albums. I’d add Hey Nineteen and Babylon Sisters from Gaucho. I have to have 2000’s Two Against Nature, if only for Cousin Dupree, which is Fagen at his funniest with Becker’s hypnotic bass line.

    When I see my little cousin Janine walk in,
    and all I could say was “Ouch!”

    But I had to think between the title track, the long West of Hollywood, Janie Runaway and Jack of Speed … all worthy songs.

    Move on to 2003’s Everything Must Go, and the perky bounce of Blues Beach has an aspect of Prince about it (Raspberry Beret era). The only criticism is that the choppy keyboard work, fabulous bass playing, melody, lyrics and vocal on the album isn’t very different from thirty years earlier.

    When someone does the essential Fagen solo list, look out for the later Midnight Rambles live discs when they appear, as they will, when Donald Fagen joins the Levon Helm Band with his stepdaughter, Amy Helm (her mother, Libby Titus was married to Levon Helm before Donald Fagen).

    A different ten (I’ll take Terry’s ten to, of course) …

    Babylon Sisters (Gaucho)
    Bad Sneakers (Katy Lied)
    Blues Beach (Everything Must Go)
    Cousin Dupree (Two Against Nature)
    Do It Again (Can’t Buy A Thrill)
    Hey Nineteen (Gaucho)
    Jack of Speed (Two Against Nature)
    My Old School (Countdown to Ecstasy)
    Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Pretzel Logic)
    Slang of Ages (Everything Must Go)

  3. Stephen Lawrence
    Sep 15, 2013

    Great piece by Terry there on the merits of Steely Dan, totally agree with Merric because “Midnite Cruiser” has exactly the same effect on me.

    I would like to mention one of Steely Dan’s finest songs that tends to get overlooked as it’s not on any of their albums bar a greatest hits & the “Citizen Dan” box set – “Here at the Western World” could quite possibly hold the title of best Dan song ever. No.1 on my list 9 days out of 10.

  4. John Chamberlain
    Sep 15, 2013

    No mention of Haitian Divorce, my all time favourite and would be a desert island choice. Love the guitar breaks in the middle and the end.
    (There is now – and quite right too! Ed.)

  5. Rob Millis
    Sep 17, 2013

    I’m not a fan at all, but reading the above was pleased to finally see somebody (who so obviously is a fan judging by the fine article) that “you only need the early albums”.

    I couldn’t agree more: even a Dan avoidee like myself can appreciate Dirty Work off the first LP; the hardened fans among my friends are all paid up Aja men, and I can’t see the fuss at all. A band made the early LPs; a business made the clever, polished ones.

    A mate of mine had this theory that involved The Band, Little Feat and Steely Dan as the three untouchables of rock music. All have a quality above the norm, all a style of their own and all difficult to imitate. He reckons you will always like two of the three and find the other to be of good quality but just not your cup of tea. That’s how I’ve always viewed those later Steely Dan LPs and I take my hat off once again to the writer for daring to suggest that the early output is all you need.

    • Martin Palmer
      Oct 16, 2013

      Well, there’s something in that theory, I’m definitely a huge fan of both Steely Dan and Little Feat but truth be told I’ve never really explored The Band much (‘Last Waltz’ aside) so I wouldn’t say they’re not my thing, just that I’m not sufficiently informed – yet.

      I have a terrible confession to make. On our first visit to New York, a few years ago, we stayed at the Beacon Hotel – in the same building as the famous Beacon Theatre. We arrived late afternoon, tired after an eight hour flight and the ride in from the airport. Before we entered the hotel, I glanced up at the theatre marquee: “TONIGHT – STEELY DAN”. I wandered over to the theatre lobby, a sign at the box office was offering the last few returns at $100 each. We checked in and found our room, and discussed whether to see the show. And we might well have done if the ten-minute nap we intended hadn’t stretched to a couple of hours, by which time the show had started and the tickets gone. So on the only occasion I’ve ever had a realistic chance of seeing them I slept – while they played downstairs in the same building…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

↓